rose sprig

Three

Once her sisters sighted the car, they ran up, with demanding questions. "Why didn't you wait at the aud-a-torium?!" her pet sister cried, wrapping strong bony arms around Ruthe's waist as she got out of the brown sedan. "We looked- and looked- all over! No you. No car!"

"What were you up to?" demanded Suzanne. "We had no car to pick up Grosz'mama. She couldn't come."

"Oh!" Ruthe gasped. But she knew her demure grandmother would not have complained, only worried about her safety. And prayed.

"Had to work, huh?" teased Brandt in his deepening voice as he loped up behind them. He came between Ruthe and Suzanne in age.

With exaggerated calm Ruthe commanded, "Hold it. Keep your shirts on."

Their parents arrived next, panting heavily from a hurried trot. "W- wh're on earth were you, Ruthe!" exclaimed her mother showing tremendous anxiety.

"What kind of emergency'd be more important than your own graduation?" raged her stout father, his stomach quivering.

"Okay, okay," Ruthe soothed as she marshalled them into the small white house. "Let's not set up outdoor broadcasting."

"Now Ruthe. What happened?" insisted her mother, taking off her Sunday floral kerchief, and trying to regain her usual authority in the home.

"Someone was dying and asking for me." Ruthe blinked once. What a nice, short answer. Thanks, Lord.

"Why you? Couldn't she ask for another operator?"

"Because-" Ruthe hesitated. How little could she get away with? "She liked me, and she didn't know any other operator. So I did what I could, and came back as soon as I could. But, Mom. Having just been at a deathbed, I didn't feel like visiting around at the auditorium."

A flicker of sympathy lit in her mother's eyes.

"But we have a right to know!" shouted her dad, yanking loose his tie and shedding his suit jacket with the permanent wrinkles in his elbows.

Ruthe ignored him, knowing that if she got past her mom, she would take care of dad for her. "As a matter of fact, I still don't feel much like talking. So I'm going to bed."

"Me too," announced Sharri, taking her hand like a loyal nine year old sister. "I'm going with you."

"Yes- but," said her mother dolefully, dying to know more. "Don't you trust us any more? You've become so secretive lately, as if-"

"As if you're a stuck up city girl now!" finished her dad vehemently.

"Oh Dad! Mom!" Ruthe moaned in exasperation. She knew just where this conversation cycle was going.

Ruthe respected her mother's practical mind, but saw her as a worrier, and the things she did and thought about these days would only give her more to worry about. She looked on her secrecy as a kindness to her mother. Instead she reached for her intense sense of justice. "Mom, when another person trusts me, isn't it Christian and fair that she be able to count on me to keep that confidence?"

Though her mother was reluctant to let go, Ruthe could see that her logic was hitting its mark. For this moment.

Her dad, who knew nothing of keeping secrets, was opening his mouth to press for a total confession, so Ruthe added hastily, "I assure you, your little Ruthe didn't get into any trouble or do anything to be ashamed of, so how about all of you trusting her for a change?"

Turning, she added with an enhanced yawn, "I've had a long, hard day, and I've promised to work extra hours tomorrow. You know we need the money."

"Yeah. Think you're indispensable," muttered Suzanne.

It was delicate work negotiating understandings with this budding teenage sister, so Ruthe let that remark go, and turned to make her escape.

"Mijall! Houl stell1!"

Ruthe froze at the anger in her dad's voice.

With a raised fist and a speech more nimble in his mother tongue, her father stood before her and told her that graduate or not, she was still his daughter, and was going to tell the truth, or he would pound it out of her.

"Ben! Ben!" suddenly her mother was pulling down his upraised arm and urging him to control himself. He jerked his arm away and sputtered some dirty words in Low German.

"Ruthe," her mother now turned on her with authority. "You're too big to spank, but if you are doing anything to be ashamed of, getting bad friends in Saskatoon, then I am going to phone up the telephone office and tell them- you quit! You no longer work there. I have always said I would never go on welfare, but I will do that before I will let you throw your life into the gutter! Hear me?!"

"Yeah, y' hear that?" yelled her dad, coming back, dangerously close.

In the back of Ruthe's mind, deep in her thin body dressed in the pink lace with the corsage of deep velvety roses that now seemed to find it too hot and humid here, came a tiny whisper, "They don't understand! And see? They're too blind to notice the roses." However, her stronger, normal spirit seemed to blink and come to its senses, and knew that she loved her parents too much, despite all their faults to turn on them in revenge. Ruthe gulped, turned, not answering, and with scalding tears washing down her face, stumbled up the narrow wooden stairs for the bedroom under the eaves that she shared with her two sisters.

Sharri came running along behind, trying to catch Ruthe's hand. When they were nestled on the old, opened sofa bed that they shared, together with a roll of toilet paper that Ruthe kept handy for such occasions of nose-blowing and weeping, the little sister said to big sister, "I know you didn't do anything bad, Wuffie. Why didn't you just tell 'em what you did?"

Ruthe blasted into a wad of paper first. "Because, other people have a right to their secrets. If they can't trust me, then I don't deserve to be their friend. Besides, God knows the truth. The Bible says He will defend me."

"So? You're crying."

"Because my feelings are hurt doesn't make it okay to hurt back."

Suzanne came into the room and threw herself on her own cot, but Sharri knew better than to beg for Ruthe's secret adventure when this middle sister was there. So they sniffled, and Ruthe got Sharri to describe the graduation instead.

Here Suzanne jumped in and corrected or expanded on the junior's view, until their parents hollered that they should get ready for bed properly. Suzanne suddenly saw the roses, and wanted an answer.

Ruthe reminded her they were to be quiet, and just stared wistfully at the roses in her hand. She tried to memorize the colour and curl of the petals. Then her mind leaped into fantasy gear for a split moment and saw long hedges just dripping with roses of many shades.

If only they weren't so blindly afraid of other ethnic people, Ruthe thought to herself as she tucked her corsage away in a cast off box and hid it to dry. They often heard sermons in church on witnessing to the lost; rescuing the perishing. Her parents enjoyed missionary reports as much as she did, so why did they work so hard to spend time with only their own relatives and kind? Why did they run down any English or foreign types they saw or heard of in town? What was there to fear?

Ruthe mulled on these questions and others, discussing them with her Companion until asleep, and again at six the next morning, as she sauntered through the vegetable garden, and across a dirt road into an unkempt willow bush and rough pasture on the edge of town. She sat on a fallen log and watched the sun rise higher. The twittering birds, the rustling leaves, the cool dew all refreshed her. The masses of moving colours in the eastern sky filled her with awe for the Creator. It was easy then to talk to the Lord and imagine His replies.

Because of an old hymn she had heard, she thought of these walks and talks as her trysts in the garden of prayer, with Jesus, her Friend. She hummed, not aloud, but in the back of her mind;
"I come to the garden alone,
while the dew is still on the roses;
and the voice I hear, falling on my ear;
the Son of God discloses."


Ruthe sighed with satisfaction. She was loved and understood by this unseen Friend. Forty-five minutes later she turned and headed back to the house, some of her questions unanswered, yet it didn't matter. She almost swung His hand as her mind sang the chorus:
"And He walks with me,
and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known."


Her parents and Suzanne tried to bother more information out of her that morning before Ruthe left for work in the city, but she felt she had survived the worst battle. She found she could suffer and weep and hold her tongue at the same time. Ruthe wasn't totally sure God approved of secrecy and deception, but He did seem to be helping her avoid the clash with her parents that could put an end to her extra life in the city. No doubt there would be other scenes, and one day they might find out about the strange people she was meeting in the world. That hung over her like an axe on a thin rope, and she hoped she would be sufficiently brave when that day came.

Everyone was busy when she got back in the evening, so she didn't have to tell them about stopping in at the O'Briens again.

Ruthe took another early Sunday morning walk. The glow of that was with her right through breakfast, and the usual dressing up for church hassle, and as she taught a class of eight primaries in Sunday School.

As Pastor Ewert preached in the worship service, Ruthe gained a new insight into a comforting passage she could share with bereaved sisters, perhaps after the funeral that afternoon.

Ruthe eased the family home after church and sped up the noon meal, ready in the roaster, so that she could get away in time for Pearl O'Brien's funeral without having to let on.

Handing her mother the apron after she had done most of the dishes by herself, Ruthe said quietly that she felt like a drive. "If I'm not back by faspa I've gone on to my evening shift."

For a moment she thought her mom would say something about how hard it was to lose a friend to death, or ask what to say to Grosz'mama if she didn't show up for their usual Sunday afternoon visit. Instead she warned Ruthe to eat properly on her supper-break, "and lock your doors while driving. Remember, you promised Grosz'mama and me that you'd never pick up a hitchhiker."

Promising again, Ruthe slipped out before her mother remembered more questions, and before Sharri could notice her absence. She was always begging to come along for a ride. Not that Ruthe liked to refuse her, but right now she was not sure how well little Sharon Rose could keep a secret.

She smiled at her sister's name. When this baby sister had arrived, Ruthe had just discovered another name for Jesus in the Bible, Rose of Sharon, so when her mother asked for a modern, instead of the usual Mennonite name, that had been her nomination. Her practical mother had changed it to Sharon Rose. Changing her diapers, Ruthe and Brandt had called her Sharri and it was still used.

Ruthe wasn't sure what this Catholic funeral would be like, but she did look forward to being with her new girlfriends. Muriel is so sweet and seems to look up to me. While Cathy is almost a whole year younger than me, she seems older; 'cause she's sophisticated. Ruthe felt quite naive compared to her. Both sisters needed her. That felt nice, though the responsibility weighed on her a bit. Lord, help me to transfer their dependency to You, she prayed as she drove. To depend on humans is to ask for trouble.






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